KENOSHA, Wis. –- Azusa Pacific cross country has made a statement – rather loudly too.
The nationally-ranked Cougar men’s and women’s programs dropped in on the Midwest today and pronounced to everyone in site that the west coast produces great distance runners. At the Midwest Collegiate Invitational hosted by Wisconsin-Parkside, the NAIA’s No. 4-ranked Cougar men finished second and the No. 4 women finished third. Along the way they beat several other nationally-ranked teams, including Golden State Athletic Conference rival Concordia.
“It was a great day for us,” said Cougar coach Preston Grey. “The course conditions, the weather and of course our times were absolutely perfect. We came here to get a feel for the course that the NAIA championships will be run on, and if both teams run like this when we come back here in November, then they’ll both be taking home trophies.”
On the same course that the NAIA championships will be staged in mid-November, the Cougars cut through a large field of quality small-college programs and mid-level NCAA Division I teams.
On the men’s side, only NCAA Division II No. 16-ranked Edinboro University (Pa.) beat Azusa Pacific, winning the meet with a low of 74 points. The Cougars were second with 85, and in the process beat the NAIA’s No. 3-ranked Concordia, which was fifth (113), No. 10 Cornerstone University (Mich), which was third (94), and No. 17 Indiana Wesleyan University, which was seventh (168), along with NCAA Division II No. 10 Wayne State University (Mich.), which was sixth (123).
The Cougar women tallied 95 points for its third-place finish, trailing only NCAA Division I Marquette University (Wis.) which won with 42 points and meet host Wisconsin-Parkside, which came in second with 74. The lady Cougars finished ahead of NCAA Division II No. 8-ranked Edinboro, which was fifth (148), and also had the advantage on NAIA nationally-ranked No. 11 Indiana Wesleyan, which seventh (181), No. 10 Concordia, which was eighth (184), and No. 20 Cornerstone, which finished 10th (275).
For the second straight meet, All-American junior Jaime Canterbury paced the Cougar women, clocking an all-time personal 5K best of 17:43 to finish fifth out of the 255 runners. Not only was this Canterbury’s first-ever sub-18-minute race and a 27-second PR, but it was also the third fastest time in program history, trailing only Brianna Carstensen’s school-record 17:28 run at Woodward Park in 2004 and Latesha Jones’ 17:40 clocked in 2000.
“All the girls ran personal records by decent amounts,” said Grey. “They had a great team time, and simply put, they ran awesome.”
All-American Aron Rono won his second straight race of the season, clocking a season-best 24:07 to run away from the other 262 men. He finished more than 35 seconds ahead of his nearest competitor, Cornerstone’s Derek Scott.
“Aron won the race going away,” said Grey, “and there was really no one who challenged him.”
A tight pack of Cougars runners from 2 through 5 secured Azusa Pacific’s high finish in the meet. In fact, only 7 seconds separated the next 4 Cougars following Rono. Freshman Rocky Richardson and junior John Pfeil each recorded 26:02 to finish 20th and 21st overall, respectively. Sophomore Caleb Mesa, who struggled in the season-opening meet, was nearly 2 minutes better 2 weeks later, registering a 26:04.
“We just held off Cornerstone which added a new runner in the past weeks,” said Grey. “Our goal was to stay within 15 to 20 seconds of one another, so to keep the 2 through 5 pack within 8 seconds was outstanding.”
Azusa Pacific takes next week off and returns to the course Sept. 29 when they travel north for the Stanford Invitational in Palo Alto, Calif.